October 24, 2017

DFB Pokal Final Preview: German Footballing Gods Collide

Saturday’s clash between Borussia Dortmund and FC Bayern München at Berlin’s Olympiastadion is a match filled with promise as the two current gods of German football collide for a third time this season.  Although many of us enjoy an underdog such as last year’s MSV Duisburg squad making it to the final, this 70th Pokal final is truly an epic battle of German football’s two current heavyweights, as well as a Cup final meeting of league champion and runnerup unprecedented in recent memory.  Dortmund twice defeated the Bavarians during the 2011/2012 on the road to their second consecutive Bundesliga title — a title thought by many to be earned by Bayern München this season in a continuation of the ‘every other year’ Bayern championships that the Bavarians have won since the 2005/2006 season.

But Jürgen Klopp’s young team at Dortmund have captured some of the swagger that Bayern München have displayed for so many years, creating a true domestic rival for the Bavarians to engage for Bundesliga dominance.  It is totally appropriate that this year’s DFB Pokal final will be a test between the league champions and a Bayern squad that finished second in the league and will happily play for the UEFA Champions League title May 19, the reaching of such an important goal for Jupp Heynckes’ men that at times earlier this season looked unlikely to occur.

Neither team’s journey to this year’s Pokal Final went unthreatened.  The Pokal semifinals saw Borussia Monchengladbach force the Bavarians to penalties before succumbing while Borussia Dortmund scored just at the end of extra time to defeat a brave SpVgg Greuther Furth side.  Another 2. Bundesliga club, Fortuna Dusseldorf, took BvB to penalties in the Round of 16.

Bayern München

Bayern München are no stranger to hauling home Pokal trophies….they have won the competition fifteen times since 1957, and as recently as two seasons ago.  As a player, Heynckes won the Pokal in his second stint with Borussia Mönchengladbach in 1973, but despite all his accomplishments in football management, the Cup has eluded Osram as a coach.

If one combines that situation with Bayern Munich losing twice to Dortmund by duplicate 1-0 margins, Die Bayern have immense motivation to beat Dortmund in this third matchup of the season.  Those six points dropped to BvB made up the bulk of the eight points by which Dortmund won the league.  And even worse for the Bavarians — Dortmund beat them twice during their 2010/2011 coming-out party, by an aggregate score of five goals to one.

Arjen Robben, the mercurial Dutchman who went from goat (when missing a PK in the second game this year against Dortmund) to hero (when he scored against Real Madrid to halve a 2-0 Madrid lead), is ready for the challenge.  He explained in an interview on the Bundesliga website that “We’re all fired up, of course. We’re all professionals and we want to win. We’ve got two finals – in the DFB Cup against Dortmund and then the big one [in the Champions League against Chelsea]. These are the games you want to be involved in as a footballer.”  While teammate Toni Kroos is on record stating the Bavarians need for revenge against BvB, Robben knows the upcoming task won’t be easy.  “We need to be realistic. We’ve good a good chance in both (title) games, but we need to have two perfect days and maintain a very high level. You need to be up for it on the day. We’ve got the quality – that much is clear, but they’re going to be two very close games. It’ll be the small details which make the difference.”

Meanwhile, Bayern and German NT goalkeeper Manuel Neuer insists that the May 19 Champions League final against Chelsea is no distraction from the task to be done this Saturday.  “We’re fired up for the match and want to win the trophy.  We’ve had a good season as a team, but it’ll only be a superb season if we win trophies,” continued Neuer.  “The result in the Cup Final will definitely influence the mood, that much is clear, so we’ll do everything we can to win the Cup.”

Certainly Bayern players have no desire for anyone to imagine that the torch of Bundesliga dominance has passed on to Dortmund.  When you lose four times, there is a certain anger,” said Germany midfielder Thomas Muller.  “We want to show them that this isn’t how it’s going to be for the next five years.” Are Bayern motivated to win Saturday?  Yes.  Will the following Saturday’s Champions League final be a distraction for them?  Doesn’t seem so.  Although Dortmund won the league, Bayern was the stingiest Bundesliga club defensively and had a positive goal differential of +55, equal to that of the champions.

Finally, Neuer added a little more heat to the fire burning between the two clubs.  He stated to Bild that Bayern’s two losses this season to Dortmund “…. were not clear defeats, and thus the victories were not deserved.  Both games should have ended in draws.”  Hmmm.

Borussia Dortmund

This season’s title was the fifth Bundesliga championship won by Dortmund, their first two earned in the 1994/1995 and 1995/1996 seasons, sandwiched between Bayern Munich title winners.  The club has also captured the DFB Pokal twice, although the last time was in 1989.  It’s not news that Jurgen Klopp’s enthusiasm and management skills, along with the acumen displayed by Sporting Director Michael Zorc, have turned BvB into a league power that looks to endure for years to come with so much youthful talent at the club.

The shortcoming, however, has been Dortmund’s rather disappointing play in Europe the past two seasons.  A win Saturday against this year’s Champions League finalist would be a huge boost for the club, and their first double in the 102 year history of Dortmund.

“It’s one of the biggest matches in Germany of recent years. We’re totally looking forward to it,” said Klopp.   The bespectacled coach in the baseball cap was present for the last Pokal final meeting between the two clubs in 2008, working as a TV commentator, and he well knows what to expect as far as the electric atmosphere running through the Olympiastadion Saturday.  Not that Dortmund didn’t benefit from that loss.  “It was part of our long-term strategy to lose the final, because it opened the way for Jurgen Klopp,” said Dortmund General Manager Hans-Joachim Watzke with a wink.

Indeed. Klopp was hired shortly after the Dortmund’s Cup loss and the rest is history, with more in the making.  From flirting with bankruptcy circa 2005, the club under the former Mainz man edged into Europa League play before gaining back to back titles.  During his tenure thus far at Dortmund,  Die Schwarzgelben have earned 272 league points, only three less than Saturday’s Cup rival during the same time frame.

Which brings us to Saturday.  “First against second, the German champions against the Champions League finalists – it´s one of the biggest games ever in Germany, and all of our minds are focused on it. We expect the best Bayern side imaginable,” said Klopp.  Both teams are fit (although Bastian Schweinsteiger’s ankle injury is a concern) and have every imaginable motivation to win the Cup and knock their rival for German football dominance a peg down.  With all the star players involved, including the league’s second and third leading goal-scorers  (Mario Gomez and Robert Lewandowski) it could be a high-scoring match.  Then again, we’re talking about the two outstanding defenses and two 1-0 results between the clubs this season, as well as both clubs being involved in low scoring Cup matches along the way to the final.

To predict with certainty the winner between a Dortmund team unbeaten in 2012 and a Champions League finalist Bayern side desperate to avoid a fifth consecutive defeat to BvB is difficult, if not impossible.  The league’s top scoring club against the most frugal defenders.  Amazing.  All I know is that I can’t wait until kickoff.

The match will be streamed on ESPN 3 in the U.S. at 2:00 pm EDT.

Quotes above taken from bundesliga.de, the official BvB website and The Times of India.

 

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Gerry Wittmann

Gerry is the founder of the Bundesliga Fanatic. Besides loving German football, he also enjoys the NBA, collecting jerseys and LPs, his pets and wishes he had more time for fishing, bicycling and learning the bass guitar.

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